Piecing together all of the circumstances of a car accident can be an extremely complicated task. After all, no two car accidents are the same.
Yet, determining fault in an accident — and proving fault to a jury — can be a much more daunting prospect. Fault is not always a clear-cut, all-or-nothing calculation.
For this reason, some states have laws that permit fault to be shared among two or more parties in an accident. Damages are awarded based on each party’s share of the fault.
This sharing of fault in an accident is what is called comparative fault, or comparative negligence.
Arizona, California, and 10 other states are what we call “pure comparative fault states.” In these states, anyone found partially at fault in an accident is responsible for paying his or her relative percentage of damages.
A Simple Comparative Fault Example
Let’s explore a comparative fault example through the following hypothetical accident, as described from two completely different points of view:
Testimony of Driver A: “I was driving down the road approaching an intersection. At that intersection, I intended to make a left-hand turn. I crept into the intersection waiting for oncoming traffic to clear. Eventually, the light turned yellow. I started to make a left turn and then, out of nowhere, an oncoming vehicle crashed into my passenger-side door. I did everything right. I was following the rules of the road.”
Testimony of Driver B: “I was driving down the road approaching an intersection. I was traveling straight ahead. I saw a vehicle in the left-turn lane waiting to make its turn. I clearly had the right of way. The light turned yellow, but I was almost at the intersection. I could not stop without slamming on my brakes and potentially causing an accident behind me. So, I proceeded through the intersection with caution. However, the vehicle waiting to make a left turn darted in front of me. I could not stop before hitting it in the passenger-side door. I did everything right. I was following the rules of the road.”
As you read these two accounts, who do you think is at fault?
Now, imagine you are on a jury and you are being asked to decide which driver was at fault. Fortunately for you, as a juror, you are in luck! The law has given you a tool called comparative fault, allowing you to apportion fault to drivers of both vehicles. You can say that both drivers are partially responsible for the accident. In this comparative fault example, you might choose to assign a 50% fault to each party.
Absent an agreement by the parties, by and through their insurance companies, partial fault is something decided by the trier of fact — in other words, a jury. Only a jury can arrive at a binding determination of fault.
To put this differently, the police do not have the authority to decide partial fault. One insurance company does not have the mandate to determine partial fault. An attorney does not have the grounds to assign a partial fault percentage.
How Does Comparative Fault Apply to Jury Awards?
Remember, anyone found partially at fault in a comparative fault state is responsible for paying its relative share of damages. If Driver A were found to be 50% at fault for the accident, and the jury awarded Driver A $100,000 in damages, Driver A’s award would be reduced by 50%. Driver A would only receive $50,000 of the $100,000 total award. The other half would be apportioned to Driver B.
Have a Comparative Fault Question?
If you have experienced a real-life comparative fault example like the one described above, you may still have a claim to recover compensation even if you were partially at fault. To learn more about your rights and options moving forward, call Negretti & Associates for a free consultation. Call us at (602) 531-3911 in Arizona, (619) 777-3370 in California, or (720) 636-3444 in Colorado. You can also contact us online or send us a text.